Just arrived home from St. Thomas, where I spent the past few days eating questionable seafood and chronicling UConn in the Paradise Jam.
First, some observations on the team, and then some memories from the trip.
*UConn desperately needs more from Tyler Olander. No one is asking for 20 and 10, but Olander has to rebound and, in order to do that, he needs to stay out of foul trouble. He played just nine minutes against Wake Forest and 12 versus New Mexico, collecting just one board in those two outings. That’s not going to cut it.
*Shabazz Napier has been exceptional — seriously, truly spectacular. Before the season, I insisted that Ryan Boatright would be the best player on this team. I even suggested that Omar Calhoun would be the second leading scorer. I was dead-wrong. Now off-the-ball, Napier is averaging a career-high 21.2 points per game. No team in the Paradise Jam field could check Napier, and I suspect that most others will have trouble, too. He hung 10 points on Wake Forest in 2:08 and proceeded to score 11 in the final 3:24 of regulation against Quinnipiac. Best stat of the week: Napier scored 81 points this past week; only 12 came in the first half.
*Cars drive on the left side of the road in St. Thomas, so I figured it was best for me not to rent (and wreck) a car. I took cabs back-and-forth from my hotel and the arena and and had some interesting discussions with the drivers. One “assumed” that I was a chef interning at the Marriott (apparently, there are lots of those). Another asked where I was headed to; I said “the basketball arena.”
His response: “You are a referee?”
Mine: ….”Have been for 12 years now.”
*UConn’s crowd was mostly family (and a few die-hards who could afford to drop a few grand on the trip), but it made for a good atmosphere because of the small, high school gym feel. Fan of the tournament easily goes to Shabazz Napier’s mom, who didn’t stop standing, dancing or yelling in the three games.
*The flight down was far more eventful than the flight back. My layover in Puerto Rico was delayed about a half-hour because of “mechanical issues,” which were apparently cleared when they allowed everyone to board the plane. Or maybe not.
We were then instructed to leave the plane because it was deemed unsafe. Good thing they caught that.
Instead, we boarded a different aircraft, which got us to St. Thomas, but not before the pilot stopped the plane to allow an iguana to stroll across the runway. I believe his exact words were “Hey (expletive), ever heard of the crosswalk?!”